It was announced last week that Reggie Porter had injured his knee and would be out for the season. With the loss of talented sophomore, Utah's cornerback rotation became markedly thin, so much so that the Utes coaching staff moved wide receiver Dominique Hatfield to the defensive side of the ball. Shah told me Porter was a "monumental" loss, as he was "ascending so quickly, so high." His attitude was contagious and helped lead other corners.
"You don't make up for people like Reggie," Shah said. "You just try to patchwork folks, and see who you can get to help. He's special. I can't wait until he comes back."
Hatfield joined another former wide receiver, Brian Allen, in the move to cornerback (although Hatfield will still play wide receiver as well). Shah has wanted to utilize the sophomore wide out/corner since he got to Utah. Hatfield was the defensive player of the year for the Coliseum League while at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, Calif., so he clearly has the skill to be an Pac-12 defensive back. Good hips and quick feet are two gifts Hatfield has that coaches look for in a corner. Understanding the defense and defending the vertical ball are the two biggest areas that the former receiver needs to work on.
"I just need to learn a little more, definitely, on the offensive and defensive side," Hatfield said, "gain a little more weight, just little stuff like that. But my ability and my skill, I'm very comfortable."
"He's a fighter," Shah said. "Dom-O comes from the exact same neighborhood I cam from, the exact same neighborhood, and it's hard. It's unbelievable, but he continues to find a way to fight through it and excel. I love that about him. He has the perfect formula, emotionally, physically, and mentally, to be a great cornerback."
Shah noted that he doesn't let Hatfield take a play off. The coach demands better of Hatfield, and they have a great relationship because they have similar upbringing in Southern California. Shah said Hatfield needs a greater understanding of the defense first and foremost, and then he needs to learn how to defend the vertical ball.
"Good group, competitive group," is how Shah describes the cornerbacks. Among them, freshman Monte Seabrook has earned the nickname "The Bunny" because, as Shah says, he's a "phenomenal leaper," tremendous hops. Shah also called out Las Vegas freshman Casey Hughes as someone to watch.
"Probably the fastest corner in the room, without a doubt," Shah said. "I love his speed and his physical nature. I think he's going to develop to be really good.
Another freshman, Boobie Hobbs, was singled out for having great hands and very solid, natural instincts for the position. But it's hard to talk about a group of defensive backs without mentioning the stars, and Shah says that senior Eric Rowe, who was moved to cornerback in this, his final season, will shock some people with his speed and physical play. Fellow senior Davion Orphey is finally coming into his own, according to Shah, becoming confident and comfortable. Justin Thomas, the sophomore from Orange, Texas, just does "everything well," but it has been senior Wykie Freeman who has been the biggest surprise.
"He's worked himself into just an outstanding position," Shah said of Freeman."Wykie has put down 4.39 and 4.41 multiple times, and he's 5-11 1/2, 178, so he's a great looking kid."
Shah likes the competitiveness of his group. He notes that a competitive group allows him to get the most out of the individuals each practice.
"But everybody knows if you miss too many times, let too many balls get deep on you, I'll pull somebody else out and give them your reps," Shah said. "So people are playing at a high level all the time, which makes us better."
Shah is very aware of his group's lack of interceptions from last season. This season, he's working with individuals on ball skills, seeing the ball better, getting in better position to catch the ball, focusing on a particular point on the ball. Shah said simply he thinks Utah's corners have a chance to be very good.
Second half of this interview with Coach Shah he goes in depth on the corner back position.